The wrong beds

A friend recently shared the poem « The wrong beds » by Roger McGough. It’s a brilliantly observed piece reflecting on life as a hospital ward. It ends with the line « We didn’t make our beds. But we lie in them. » There is such a lot to ponder in that…

You can find the whole poem in That Awkward Age by Roger McGough:

My favourite little milk jug from Dublin

A day or two after my friend had shared the poem, I accidentally knocked my favourite little milk jug on the floor, and the handle shattered. I bought this funny little jug on holiday, and although it has always annoyed me that it won’t go in the dishwasher, it holds sentimental value for me. It reminds me of the friends I was with when I bought it. And it has made a lot of people smile since.

The timing of discovering the poem and breaking the jug made me wonder about blame. We often assign blame saying, « You’ve made your bed. Now you’ll just have to lie in it. » or « I suppose I’ve made my bed and now I’ve got to lie in it. » I immediately berated myself for being so clumsy and knocking over my jug. But I was so tired when I did it, it’s not a surprise. And was it my fault that I was tired? Maybe partly. Maybe not wholly…?

What I love about McGough’s poem is the thought that maybe we didn’t actually make our own beds. And if we had had the opportunity to make them, we wouldn’t have made them here, or like this. They are in the wrong place, always, it seems, no matter where they are.

When we’re in hospital we don’t make our own beds, but we know we should be so grateful for those who make them for us. (And even saying this here makes me remember how grateful I must be that in the UK we have hospitals and people whose job it is to make the beds in them. Not something all of the world’s population experiences, which fact the pandemic has brought more to our attention lately.)

So when we lie in a bed that we didn’t make for ourselves, but which we somehow ended up in anyway, what will be our response? When through no fault of our own, we find ourselves ill, living with a health condition we never asked for? Or we are misunderstood, disbelieved, or something is missed and as a consequence, we suffer? What then will be our response? We sometimes have to lie in the bed that is made for us, whether we like it or not.

And that goes against the grain in a capitalist society where we are constantly bombarded with adverts telling us we can have whatever we want. This is a lie, in fact. And even those with vast stores of wealth often do not have what they want. In fact, I wonder whether many of us even know what it is that we want or need most deeply.

Perhaps people who have less material wealth will teach us something about what is most needed? Certainly they would know more about that than the makers of adverts, or the publishers of glossy magazines, I think…?

« We didn’t make our beds, but we lie in them. » When there’s a fight to be fought in the name of justice and peace about the beds we find ourselves in, may we find others to join us for the fight and give us courage to speak out. And when the beds we lie in are actually a real gift, may we appreciate them as such, and may those whose hands have made them for us be blessed.

2 thoughts on “The wrong beds

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